Destination: Zadar, Croatia
Recommended Airlines: Ryanair
Accommodation: Arsenal Apartments https://arsenal-apartments.business.site/
Attractions: Krka National Park, Five Wells Square, Queen Jelena Madijevka Park, St Anastasia’s Bell Tower, St Donatus Church, The Greeting to the Sun and the Sea Organ.
Overall Experience Rating: 🎒🎒🎒
Alexa, play Spotless Mind by Jhene Aiko…
Just like this song, my trip to Zadar in May was filled with undisturbed chilled vibes. As in, I was completely in my element. I’ve honestly never felt as relaxed as I did when sat by the Adriatic Sea, watching the turquoise waves rhythmically sway in the cool breeze or as carefree as I did when wandering in the glorious nature of one of Croatia’s most stunning parks. I found peace of mind, in abundance, on this particular trip – and that was truly priceless.
On this Croatian adventure, we stayed at Arsenal Apartments in Old Town, an area famously known for still being fortified by a massive 3,000 year old Roman wall. Due to this area’s historic nature and limited space, hotels are not only few and far between but also rather extortionate. As a result, apartments (and hostels) are all the craze in this small town. All rentable properties are usually indicated by a yellow star on a blue plaque outside the building… and there are lots.
Apart from our apartment being perfectly located in the heart of Old Town (just a 20 minutes’ drive from the airport), breakfast (for 3 people, over 5 days) was also included in the final price of €444.15. Not to mention, the apartment was super cosy and the owner, Ivan, was so warm and welcoming!
As always, I want this post to be as useful as possible, for anyone wanting or planning to visit Zadar, Croatia. I’ve outlined some helpful bits of information underneath some painfully cheesy (but rhyming) subheadings below, enjoy!
“Don’t be a bore, it’s time to explore”
Krka National Park
God is an artist, because Krka National Park is nothing short of a masterpiece – and now I totally understand why people travel from across the globe to visit it. Take my word, make it high priority on your itinerary!
In order to get to Krka National Park, you need to get a coach from Zadar to a rather rural little town called Skradin; it’s a 50 mins to 1 hour journey and it usually features one or two stops at service stations along the route. You can use: https://getbybus.com/en/ to book your tickets. Once you arrive in Skradin, regardless of if you take the ferry service (which runs in hourly intervals) or hike the 4km trail into the park, you’ll need to pay a 100kn fee (which goes up to 200kn in the summer months) to enter the premises. You guys should know by now that I love walking, so can you guess which mode of transport we ended up taking? Yep, the 10 toes express never fails – and it was so worth it. I got epic views and a killer work out, all in one.
In my opinion, trainers are the most appropriate form of footwear for an excursion such as Krka National Park, simply because (the hike aside) there are a lot of stairs in the park itself. I also advise taking lots of change with you when you visit, as there are plenty of stalls that sell food (crepes, burgers, bags of dried fruit, you name it) and toilets also have a small entrance fee.
This was personally my favourite activity because I got to see my first natural waterfall; despite pictures not doing it any justice at all, here are some of my favourite snaps:
Five Wells Square
These five wells were built in the early 16th century, when they were used by villagers to sustain themselves during Turkish sieges. Obviously, they’re no longer in practical use, but they possess somewhat of a sentimental value to locals, as it reminds them of much simpler but challenging times, which they eventually overcame as a people. Because of the precise and consecutive design of the wells, to tourists, they’re a great photo op – and I really can’t dispute that – they’re very aesthetically pleasing. However, I do think it’s important for travellers to make the effort to learn a bit about the historical importance (if any) of the things we find to be ‘pretty’.
St Anastasia’s Bell Tower
Cost: 15kn (approx. £2)
Zadar Cathedral, locally known as St. Anastasia’s Cathedral, is situated more or less in the centre of Old Town, next to St. Donatus’ Church. It has a 50 metre detached bell tower directly behind which features 4 levels and 180 steps. From the very top, it offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the entire city. Although I’m terrified of heights, I’ve been obsessed with climbing historical buildings ever since I did the Leaning Tower of Pisa, back in November. I’m pretty proud of myself though, I didn’t start majorly freaking out until we reached the final *much narrower* flight of stairs. All in all, it was a fun one to climb with my sister #FeelTheFearAndDoItAnyways
The Sea Organ
As the name suggests, The Sea Organ is a piece of architectural sound art by Nikola Bašić; beneath its huge marble steps lies a network of pipes that make noise according to the intensity of the waves of the Adriatic Sea. Hands down, this has to be one of the coolest/most soothing things I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s already a known fact that water and music are therapeutic in isolation of one another, but combined? That’s a power duo. Plus, the sun was out in full force radiating good vibes throughout my entire body – a power trifecta! I closed my eyes and it literally felt like all my worries were floating away. In this moment, I also realised that there is something about large bodies of clear water that gives me an internal stillness, even if only for a brief period. This is kind of ironic because I can’t swim, but as long as I had some snacks, l could honestly watch the waves crash into the shore all day long.
In alignment with the overall musical theme, another notable feature of The Sea Organ is that its nearby seating was designed to resemble piano keys. When I clocked this I was beyond excited (I know it’s proper sad) but I just love the fact that a lot of thought was put into the construction of the entire area. That deserves kudos and if you guys won’t give it, I will.
The Greeting to the Sun
The Greeting to the Sun is a circular art installation made of 300 glass plates with solar modules beneath them. At sunset, the cleverly devised plates utilise all the stored energy to change colours. As you can imagine, this tourist hotspot often becomes crowded at this very time. People from all over Europe (and I’m sure, the world at large) come to take pictures and videos of the technicoloured floor, as well as lie down on it to experience it’s warmth.
An additionally great thing about the both The Greeting to the Sun and the Sea Organ is that they are close in proximity – in fact, they are neighbours. If you’ve arrived at one, you’ve arrived at the other.
“Take that money, honey.”
I’m sure that everybody has heard the infamous mumblings of Croatia being an extremely expensive European country to visit. Well, I am here to confirm that those whispers are, in fact… true (unfortunately). Despite the Kuna being comparatively weaker against the Pound, things just cost more out there and it’s nearly impossible to manoeuvre this factor. In my opinion, it’s better to take a little extra money (still within a reasonable budget, of course) just in case, than to end up with not enough. You guys already know that I’m not a fan of #StruggleHolidays, however, if that is categorically not feasible for you, please seize every opportunity to do something cheap and cheerful whilst visiting Zadar. I can truly understand that in this pre-Brexit economy, breaking the bank is just not an option.
Another thing to note: there is a ridiculous amount of ATMs in Old Town. You’ll see a cash machine on literally every single corner, however not all of them are associated with recognisable Croatian banks. If you plan on being solely reliant on the plastic (which I actually never advise), please be weary of which machines you use.
“You don’t have to be single to platonically mingle”
Please, oh! The operative word is “platonically”. Abeg, I don’t want the wahala (trouble) of any of your boyfriends or girlfriends. I’m not encouraging waywardness (international infidelity) of any kind, I’m just saying that it’s important to get in the mix with some friendly locals. Have real conversations, exchange meaningful stories and share genuine laughter. This is a top rule of mine for anywhere and everywhere that I go.
I was fortunate enough to meet two of the loveliest locals, AA, Arsean and Alan. Arsean is the multilingual creative genius who made me a personalised necklace (he speaks 7 languages, has lived all over the world and is incredibly skilled at wire art). Whereas, I randomly met Alan in the town centre, he later became my plug!
Alan shared with me that despite him having a Masters in Philosophy and Religious Studies, owning his own recording studio and being an artist, the lack of employment opportunities in Croatia have still put him in a precarious positon. He explained that a lot of locals have seldom heard of Philosophy, talk less of understand it as a discipline or appreciate the abstract thinking and other transferable skills it equips its scholars with.
I was so eager to tell him that I was a Sociologist… and when I finally did, the smile on his face was unmatched. It’s a shame that my sister, who is a Psychologist, joined the trip a bit later, I feel like we would’ve been a cliché opening of an educational joke: “A Philosopher, Sociologist and Psychologist walked into a bar…”
Anyways, after our rather in depth conversation, he began to shower me with compliments. He further explained that he rarely encounters down to earth tourists who actually want to have real conversations with locals. To be honest, that made me sad, but at the same time I was so glad to be an anomaly. I guess the beauty of meeting new people is that they don’t just see you, they feel you and in turn, remind you of who you are.
“Take a seat, it’s time to eat”
As I mentioned earlier, one of the great features of Arsenal Apartments is that they have a breakfast-included partnership with a local restaurant called The Hedonist. It’s located in all of a 10 minutes’ walk from the flat and they serve really tasty food (breakfast has a set menu). When you check in, you’ll receive breakfast token cards for your length of stay, per person.
However, I must critique the fact that they struggled with the execution of a well-done egg. I do not mess with runny yolks at all and I never have. So despite me repeatedly asking them, across multiple days, for a well-done egg in my breakfast burger, they failed to deliver 4/5 times. We also ate dinner there twice. The first time, I had their BBQ ribs, which I found to be quite salty but the second time, I had their freshly caught fish and chips and that hit the spot.
On a completely different night, we dined at a restaurant called Eat Me; their menu features a range of cuisines but we opted for their freshly stone baked pizzas and they were absolutely delicious. The only critique I have for them, is the fact that my cocktail was a bit meh.
Whilst exploring Old Town one day, we also stumbled across a very unique dessert parlour, Kavana Danica. Apart from their gelato being glorious (not quite Pisan standard, but a close runner up), the aesthetic theme and interior design of their seating area is rather extraordinary.
“Well that’s it, see you in a bit”
Overall, Zadar was very good to me; I relished being in such a slow and tranquil environment. It being one of those places where, for the most part, we didn’t ‘feel’ our blackness (e.g. we didn’t get any stares or have any awkward interactions) was an added bonus. I felt free in every sense of the word… and that is rare.